British soldiers fighting in Afghanistan will be issued with rifle sights bearing Biblical references, it emerged today.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it was not aware of the significance of the markings on the advanced combat optical gunsights (ACOGs) when it placed an order for 400 from US firm Trijicon.
There are fears that the inscriptions could lead to allegations that the battle for Afghanistan is a "religious war".
Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Willie Rennie said: "It's pretty shoddy that the MoD missed this.
"It may be used by some of our enemies as evidence to convince its followers that we are engaged in a religious war between Christianity and Islam."
The MoD ordered the rifle sights from Trijicon as part of a £1.5 million "urgent operational requirement" which included more than 400 Sharpshooter rifles from another manufacturer.
The first batch of Sharpshooters, the first new infantry combat rifle issued in 20 years, will be sent to frontline troops later this year, it was announced on Monday.
It is the rifle sights which have sparked controversy on both sides of the Atlantic after Trijicon's director of sales and marketing, Tom Munson, revealed the raised lettering referred to Bible passages.
The ACOGs ordered by the MoD are said to be etched with the characters JN8:12, a reference to chapter eight, verse 12 in the book of John.
This passage, in the King James version, reads: "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
An MoD spokesman said: "We were not aware at the time of purchase that these markings had any broader significance.
"Our priority is to buy the best performing equipment available on the market.
"In this case, Trijicon were selected as they offered the best performing optical sights."
A Trijicon spokesman said: "For two generations our Michigan-based, family-owned business has been working to provide America's military men and women with high-quality, innovative sighting systems for the weapons they use.
"Our effort is simple and straightforward: to help our servicemen and women win the war on terror and come home safe to their families.
"As part of our faith and our belief in service to our country, Trijicon has put scripture references on our products for more than two decades.
"As long as we have men and women in danger, we will continue to do everything we can to provide them with both state-of-the-art technology and the never-ending support and prayers of a grateful nation."
ACOG is standard issue to US special operations forces and Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said he has received complaints about the Bible references from serving and retired members of the military.
US Marine Corps spokeswoman Captain Geraldine Carey said: "We are aware of the issue and are concerned with how this may be perceived."
Capt Carey said Marine Corps acquisition officials plan to meet Trijicon to discuss future purchases.
Trijicon's founder Glyn Bindon was killed in a plane crash in 2003. His son Stephen is the firm's current president.Reuse content